Saturday, April 29, 2017
[Marin County] Marin panel sounds warning on sexual predation
Blog note: this article references a 2015 grand jury report on sex trafficking.
Marin District Attorney Ed Berberian delivered a stark message on human trafficking Wednesday during a panel discussion on the topic sponsored by the Marin County Bar Association.
“We’re not immune from it in Marin; it’s here,” Berberian said. “In Marin since 2014, we’ve had 17 individuals who have been charged with human trafficking violations.”
Joining Berberian on the three-member panel were Marianna Warmee, a federal administrative judge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Gina Vucci, a member of the Marin County Coalition to End Human Trafficking. Vucci was a delegate to the United Nations in March at the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
About 70 people attended Wednesday’s luncheon meeting at the Four Points Sheraton in San Rafael.
Vucci also stressed that human trafficking is occurring in Marin. Warmee said that more attention needs to be paid to labor trafficking, which she defined as the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of labor as opposed to commercial sex.
Vucci said that in 2013 the FBI conducted a nationwide human trafficking sting operation, known as Operation Cross Country. She said that during the operation 55 “buyers” were arrested in Marin County, more than in any other county. She said 20 of these buyers were soliciting sex with minors.
Many of the transactions took place at a popular hotel franchise in Southern Marin, “not at a seedy motel,” Vucci said.
Berberian said that human trafficking isn’t as big a problem in Marin as in some surrounding counties, San Francisco in particular.
Vucci said the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the top hot spots for trafficking in the U.S. California has three of the top locations: San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Vucci said sex trafficking victims are less likely to be kidnapped in Marin, but she said that doesn’t mean Marin kids are necessarily safe.
“Here in Marin County we have a particular vulnerability with middle school and high school teenagers,” Vucci said. “One of the popular ways of recruitment is through an older boyfriend; we call him a Romeo pimp.”
Vucci said Romeo pimps first gain the trust of girls, then compromise them by asking them to perform progressively more sexual favors. She said such pimps are calculating and look for vulnerable targets — people with issues that tend to isolate them.
“They play the long game,” Vucci said.
Berberian said a report on human trafficking prepared by the city of San Francisco in 2016 identified 499 human trafficking survivors in the city as of 2015, seven of whom were natives of Marin.
“And we all believe that is just the tip of the iceberg,” Berberian said.
A 2015 Marin County Civil Grand Jury report found that sex trafficking in the county is “mostly unrecognized, under-reported, and rarely subject to intervention.”
One of the grand jury’s recommendations was for the Marin County Board of Supervisors to fund the creation of a database that systematically tracks adult and minor victims. Berberian said he needs such data to solicit the funds required to better pursue traffickers.
“Here in Marin County sex trafficking is a crime that is in the shadows so it is underreported and underdocumented,” Vucci said.
Warmee, the federal administrative judge, said, “We’ve seen a sea change in our response to sex trafficking over the last six years.”
But, Warmee said, “While we all think of sex trafficking when we talk about human trafficking, the reality is the vast majority of trafficking crimes worldwide are labor trafficking operations.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for which she works, investigates and pursues civil enforcement actions against labor trafficking operations.
Warmee provided several examples of labor trafficking cases to demonstrate how hard it can be to detect such cases. She said the biggest case her office has worked on involved the most conspicuous labor project in the state of California at the time, the building of the new Bay Bridge.
Warmee said the perpetrators recruited “skilled foreign nationals to work on the Bay Bridge who were later trafficked down to Los Angeles to work in restaurants and other industries.”
Warmee said the investigation of another federal labor trafficking case — in a rural Midwestern state she declined to identify — unearthed a shocking discovery.
“All the chambermaids in that establishment were modern day slaves,” Warmee said.
“Similarly in California,” Warmee said, “we’ve seen a lot of eldercare facility homes where there have been labor trafficking cases, where most of the employees are modern day slaves.”
Warmee said she insufficient attention is paid to labor trafficking because it fails to generate the same degree of moral outrage as sex trafficking.
“There are a lot of people who don’t necessarily care about the state of affairs for somebody who is undocumented,” she said.
Warmee said neither force nor fraud is necessary for labor traffickers to coerce many undocumented immigrants into doing their bidding.
She said, “Just threatening to deport somebody is a very powerful tool.”
April 26, 2017
Marin Independent Journal
By Richard Halstead